Morality and ethics, systems of right and wrong, have been at the center of the human search for truth for thousands of years. We seek to understand the world by hanging symbols on patterns, much like weavers create quilts from individual patches of fabric. Sometimes, those quilts are made out of really crappy material and too much crazy. There are also those who seem to be made of pure genius, but that line is very thin and easy debatable. You be the judge. Here are 15 professors who were also convicted criminals.
James H. Snook
Not only was Snook an inventor and Gold Medalist, he was head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State. The cherry on top? He was also a murderer.
It was a dark and stormy night when Professor Snook picked up the soggy Theora Hix from the side of the road and drove her to her dorm. Three weeks later they had initiated a torrid love affair, the details of which were rather avant garde, according to some. Their liaison would lead to a crushed skull, a cut throat, and an electrocution.
According to Snook’s testimony, Hix became violently jealous one night when they were making love in the back seat of his car. Allegedly, she threatened to kill his wife in order to “get her out of the way“, threatened to kill his daughter, and then she took him in her mouth and bit so hard that he was forced to defend himself with the handiest weapon: a ball-peen hammer. He testified that she then threatened to kill him as well, and when she slid from the car and rummaged through her purse he anticipated that she would draw a pistol; he gave her another crack in the dome just in case. Snook then precisely severed her carotid artery as she lay incapacitated, ostensibly to end her suffering.
The autopsy revealed that she had recently ingested Spanish Fly and cannabis indica. It was later revealed that the two had been experimenting with numerous narcotics in the course of their sexual affair.
John Donovan, Sr.
This guy was a retired MIT professor when he decided to shoot himself in the stomach as part of a bizarre attempt to convince authorities that his son had laundered $180 million and hired the Russian mob to put a hit on his old man. Donovan went so far as to tamper with a security camera, shoot his vehicle full of holes, simulate a break-in of his house, and falsify a police report in order to implicate his son. Among other damning evidence, police discovered that he had sketched out the hoax on a dinner menu that was found in his pocket after the “shooting.”
While some are still convinced that Socrates was a fictional mouthpiece for Plato’s more radical notions, this author is of the opinion that he was every bit as real as the rest of us. Whatever his ontological status, Socrates was indisputably one of the greatest teachers in history and generated some of the most infectious memes in the lineage of ideas.
Socrates’ unrelenting quest was to throw a wrench in the works of every belief system he encountered (especially his own). This kind of thing can get one into hot water in short order, as it did when he tried to enlighten the spear-chucking, kill-’em-all-and-let-the-gods-sort-’em-out mentality that was endemic in the politics of his own city of Thought, and indeed many of the Greek city-states. Powerful men whose “minds were poisoned by [Socrates’] enemies when they were young and impressionable” were bothered by the gadfly’s stings, and they ultimately sentenced him to death for his “crimes”.
Galileo knew a thing or two about being the center of attention. That his advocacy of Copernican views on heliocentricity can still whip a certain set into choleric frenzy indicates just how serious the Church was when it condemned him for heresy in 1633.
As with Socrates, Galileo stands to remind us to be careful who we sting in in the name of Truth. Until he made a critical blunder by putting the Pope’s words in the mouth of a character who seemed to be defending heliocentrism in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Pope Urban VII had applied his considerable power and political acumen to keeping the astronomer on the good side of the Roman Inquisition. After the publication of Dialogue, however, Urban VII was forced to respond publicly by calling Galileo to Rome to defend himself against charges of heresy. He was found guilty and sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.
A third generation architect, the talented young Speer served as an adjunct professor to Henrich Tessenow, one of the most important architects of the Weimar period. During this time he had little care for political matters, and in fact numerous sources including William L. Shirer, author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, site Speer’s many declarations of apoliticism before, during and after the Nazi conquest of Europe. It wasn’t until his students dragged him along to a Nazi rally that Speer became interested in the National Socialist movement. The single factor that attracted him to the Party was Hitler himself, who greatly impressed Speer. He would later state in the opening to his memoir, Inside the Third Reich, “I owe to him the enthusiasms and the glory of my youth as well as belated horror and guilt,” and “In the description of Hitler as he showed himself to me and others, a good many likable traits will appear. He may seem to be a man capable and devoted in many respects. But the more I wrote, the more I felt these were only superficial traits.”
Speer was inducted in 1931 as the 474,481st member of the Nazi Party and by 1934 he had risen to the post of First Architect of the Third Reich. In this capacity Speer would create his aesthetic legacy, and was responsible for many of the images that we now take to signify fascist monumentality. Speer himself considered the Zeppelintribune to be his greatest and “most beautiful” work. (Inside the Third Reich, p. 59)
Ultimately Speer was sentenced to 20 years for his actions as Minister of Armament, a post he assumed in February 1942. He had used labor and concentration camps in order to supply arms for the Third Reich during its final years, but was also instrumental in the “superhuman” 11th hour effort to disobey and countermine Hitler’s Nero Decree that would have left the German people without even the most basic capability to rebuild their shattered country. The moniker “the Nazi who said sorry” aptly sums Speer’s many contradictory statements and actions.
Chiman Rai was a professor of Mathematics at Alcorn State University who immigrated to the US in 1970. One would expect such a guy to be mild-mannered, boring, and fairly straight and narrow. Something, however, perhaps deep-seated prejudice, compelled Mr. Rai to hire a hitman to murder his son’s wife, the young Sparkle Rai. In the 2008 trial, prosecutors argued that Rai disapproved so strongly of his son’s marriage to a black woman that he believed the best thing for his family would be to have her stabbed to death by a sometimes-business-associate.
Young Ricky Rai had known from the very start that his father would disapprove, and even went so far as to tell detectives after the murder that Ricky had buried his father in India after complications from diabetes took his life. Later it was brought to light that his mother, who he had claimed was killed by a cyclone in India, was also alive and well in Mississippi.
The murder occurred in 2000, and was handled cleanly enough by its organizers that no headway was made until 2006, when a young woman was arrested for an unrelated crime. For a plea bargain, she collaborated with the cops to finger Cleveland Green, whom she had witness strangle and stab Ms. Rai. To make the whole story even more convoluted and incomprehensible, it was suggested that drugs and drug money were motivating factors in the killing.
Fuchs fled Germany to Britain in the early 1930’s in order to escape an increasingly menacing Nazi party. He earned a PhD in physics from The University of Bristol and held a professorship at the University of Edinburgh until the British became involved in the War, at which time all German citizens living in the United Kingdom were interned on the Isle of Man.
He was released in late 1940, and early in the following year was recruited to work on the British atomic weapons project. Around this time the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, an event that convinced Fuchs that the Soviets had a right to know about any secrets shared among the Allies. From late 1941 until 1946 Fuchs passed atomic secrets to the Soviets as the operative “Rest”.
Thanks to his good work in the British bomb program, Fuchs was transferred to America for work on the Manhattan Project. Aloof from Oppenheimer, Szilard, Fermi and the rest, who were betting on the probability that the entire atmosphere would go up in a cataclysmic conflagration, Fuchs stood quietly at Trinity and made observations that he would later pass to Harry Gold along with some 60 pages of detailed notes, equations and sketches that would lead, less than five years later, to the detonation of the first Soviet atomic weapon.
Alan Turing was the Isaac Newton of the 20th century, and is seen by many to be the father of the Information Age. Where Newton laid the foundation for classical mechanics, Turing invented modern computer science, and had he not been convicted for “gross indecency” in early 1952 undoubtedly would have gone on to revolutionize the world many times over with his work in artificial intelligence and mathematical biology.
In 2009, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology to the memory of Dr. Turing, thanking him for the superhuman work he did as a code-breaker during World War II and his lasting contributions to science and human prosperity.
John T. Scopes
Evolution, depressingly, is still a topic of debate in the United States of America. The person who most famously caught hell for teaching evolution was John Scopes, who was convicted in 1925 of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act – a provision against teaching evolution in schools that was eventually repealed in 1967 as unconstitutional. Scopes was defended by, among others, Clarence Darrow – probably the most famous lawyer of the time. What became known as the “Monkey Trial” was seeded by the ACLU, which wished to test the validity of the Butler Act against the Constitution. Scopes was fined $100, but the decision was later overturned because the judge had made a mistake.
If Fujimori were doing like the rest of us right now and looking for a job, he’d probably have an interesting time of it. While some of us have gaps in our employment history, previous experience that’s barely relevant at best, or a string of short engagements, at least we don’t have the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres hanging from our necks.
Alberto Ken’ya Fujimori Fujimori was born in 1938 to Peruvian-Japanese parents. Impressive early achievements, such as graduating first in his class from the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina and becoming a lecturer the next year, prefigured a significant life, though perhaps not one so controversial. After holding the deanship at his alma mater until 1989, Fujimori ran as a dark horse in the 1990 race for the Peruvian presidency and won. He would serve three terms, and each would yield considerable controversy.
At the time he took power, Peru’s political climate was made volatile by the Maoist and Marxist-Leninist groups Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, respectively. These two terrorist organizations were responsible for numerous robberies, raids, and hostage situations. Fujimori chose to fight fire with fire in order to defeat these two groups, and in the process ordered death squads into the field to eliminate leaders, footsoldiers and their support networks (read: families). The most heinous of these actions was the Barrios Altos massacre, which resulted in the deaths of an eight-year-old boy and 15 others who were mistakenly executed as members of the Shining Path by sub-machine gun wielding assassins.
Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon once called Timothy Leary “the most dangerous man in America.” Weirdly enough, Leary ended up doing a lecture tour with G. Gordon Liddy, Nixon’s psychotic henchman who, in 1966, broke into Leary’s house and arrested him in the middle of the night.
The weirdness doesn’t end there. To borrow a phrase from Neal Stephenson, Timothy Leary was fractally weird. One can turn an eye on any facet of Leary’s life and “examine it in detail and it, in and of itself, would turn out to be just as complicated and weird as the whole thing in its entirety.”
Leary’s first mushroom trip was in 1960, and it was as if he had slingshotted around a star and speed off on an utterly new and unexpected journey. The film Altered States definitely takes liberally from Leary’s research at this time, when he and his colleagues at Harvard investigated the effects of synthetic psilocybin on humans (in short: “I see God! I see God!”). Leary then started working with LSD, “turned America on”, and the rest is history.
J. Reece Roth
J. Reece Roth was a former professor of the University of Tennessee when he was found by a federal jury to have violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulation, or ITAR, by allowing foreign national graduate students to work on research contracted by the U.S. Air Force. He also traveled overseas with data related to the contracts stored in his laptop. Roth maintains that his transgression was unintentional, but does it matter if unmanned aircraft using the plasma-based guidance systems he was working on show up with Chinese flags on their wings? Survey says, “Yes!”
Professor James Moriarty was based on the notorious and right villainous American criminal mastermind Adam Worth, the original “Napoleon of Crime”.
Worth followed a convoluted path. Having lied about his age in order to enlist, he fought for the Union during the American Civil War and was wounded in 1862. While convalescing in Washington DC he discovered that because of a clerical error he was dead on paper. This was the blossoming of Worth’s devious alacrity and gift for opportunism.
Leveraging his newfound anonymity, Worth took to a life of crime: first as a bounty jumper, then robber, burglar and pickpocket. He served a bid in Sing Sing, which only helped to educate him about the possibilities of sophisticated crimes such as bank robbery.
Eventually Worth moved to London, where as a worldly and knowledgeable criminal he was able to weave a darknet of proxies to execute his nefarious schemes. This network was responsible for a series of burglaries and robberies that kept Scotland Yard on their toes for years. Of note is that Worth demanded his underlings perpetrate their crimes in a non-violent manner. After a number of adventures, missteps and believe-it-or-not Good Deeds, Worth died peacefully as a free man in February of 1902.
In 2003 Tom Murray, according to prosecutors, suffered a minor bout of jealousy that motivated him to beat and stab to death his wife. The fellow had been, by all accounts, a pretty decent guy: he was a professor of English at KSU and well regarded by the international academic community for his work in linguistics.
In addition to forensic evidence (a spot of Murray’s blood left at the scene), investigators discovered that the linguist had been researching cover-up methods on his personal computer. In this author’s opinion, the search string “how to murder someone and not get caught” implies a sad lack of creativity. Back in the day at least people would go visit an oracle, or watch a couple “perfect murder”-type movies. It seems that in the world post-Google we can’t even invent our own murder plots, let alone get away with them.
Hypatia, like Socrates, Galileo, Comenius, Turing and Christ was a figure whose fate evidences the uncomfortable truth that the definition of a crime depends on a system of law, and that the correctness of any given system is questionable. Throughout history such systems have overlapped and clashed with often with tragic results because Truth is elusive, and our efforts to define it absolutely are like trying to nail shadows to a wall. In the words of Gene Wolfe, “Only the things no one can touch are true.”
Hypatia lived in Alexandria during the 4th century AD. She was famed as a mathematician, astronomer, teacher, and Neoplatonist philosopher. Around the time of her death in 415, she supported the agenda of the Imperial Prefect of Egypt, Orestes. Orestes sought to bring a semblance of unity to the troubled region by reaching out to respected leaders of the three major spiritual powers viz., the Jews, the Christians, and the Pagans. Because of her intellectual and political popularity, Hypatia was a pagan powerful voice in favor of Orestes, who was no doubt aware that her students, the offspring of powerful families who came from far and wide to receive her wisdom, would accord with his policies only if she did.
However, Hypatia was seen as a pagan threat by Bishop Cyril and his volatile Christian constituency, who had already rioted against Orestes’ in 400 AD. Despite Orestes’ attempts at conciliation there was great animosity between the faiths, fueled by acts of terrorism perpetrated by extremists both Jewish and Christian. In the wake of a series of violent clashes, Cyril’s Nitrian monks swarmed out of the desert and attempted to assassinate Orestes. He proved to be too difficult a target, and so the wrath of the mob was redirected to the influential but unprotected Hypatia, who was accused of poisoning Orestes’ ear against the Christians, or perhaps that she was practicing witchcraft. This accusation resulted in her barbaric murder, an event that coincides with and is regarded by some as the beginning of the Dark Ages. Her death lead to the invention of “the literary Hypatia”, a figure who has been used as a symbol by many authors throughout history.